We are thrilled and honored to have been invited back to the Festival de la Habana this coming November. We’ll be posting news about the exciting program we have planned soon. Stay tuned!
Listen and watch and get blown away as Jorge performs his Sonata No. 1.
Welcome to our revamped website!
Having a website that functions on every conceivable platform is a necessity today. But as we launch this one, it has give me a chance to think back. When we came together 20 years ago (or is it 21? 19?) the thought of needing a website didn’t exist. Our first press photos were taken on actual film, with hard copy proofs, and were in black and white (ok, that was a style choice, though it may have been budget…who can remember). We had a hard copy brochure that we would mail to presenters, with an actual demo CD, that Matt would laboriously apply our labels to.
Of course, it’s not just media that has changed. We’ve grown — yes, older, but also musically. Recently we applied for a grant and needed to choose recorded samples to include. It’s been quite a few years since we’ve done this. I recall having a hard time in the past — every sample had a flaw. Not something that would destroy a live performance but under the microscope of adjudication could be an issue. This time we listened to five works from two recent concerts and they were good. Really good.
I don’t say that easily. As musicians we are incredibly self critical and always looking to improve but all three of us listened to these excerpts and were actually happy with what we heard. For me, it is a sign of how we have evolved over the last two decades. I don’t know if we will be around in 2039, and if so, what new media we will have to keep up with, but I do know we will continue to grow and learn for as long as we keep playing.
Please take some time to look around. Special thanks to Carol Lasky and John Hofstetter of Cahoots Design for giving us this beautiful new look!
Ina, Matt and I are very excited to introduce you to our first ever 8SW Composer Competition winner, Jorge Amado. Jorge is currently a student at ISA (Instituto Superior de Arte) in Havana, Cuba. His submission to the competition, Eidos II, is a very well crafted, powerful and energetic example of the potential future of chamber music. Eidos II is the second of what will be a set of independent pieces for diverse instrumental ensembles. Its title, a Greek term that means “type” or “species,” is a reference to the diverse possibilities with the instrumentation of chamber ensembles. The piece is greatly influenced by Afro-Cuban rhythms and the folkloric ensembles used for Santería ceremonial music. Please do join us at the Tenri Cultural Institute on November 16, 2018 for the World Premiere of Eidos II. For more information please visit here.
Jorge is a delightful, humble and very gifted young man. I find his generosity of spirit and his love for music to be apparent in this interview.
I am very excited to introduce you all to the wonderful flutist and composer Pamela Sklar. Pamela has had an extraordinary career performing with the likes of Dave Brubeck and touring as a soloist with the ever popular Claude Bolling, just to name a few. We are honored that Pamela composed her work, Third Eye, for Eight Strings & a Whistle.
While she might not, I still do remember the first time I met Pamela. It was on a Metro-North train to Bronxville, shortly after I had graduated from college. I was on my way to my alma mater, Sarah Lawrence College, to perform on a concert of flute music that had been organized by my former teacher, Gerardo Levy. I was with Gerardo and a few other people who were performing on that program, and Pamela was on the same train. What I don’t remember is if she was playing on that concert with us, or if she just happened to be on the same train that day –– Funny, you’d think I’d remember the concert instead! I was struck by Pamela’s down-to-earthedness. She seemed so centered, curious about everything, open minded and confident in a way that was a pleasure to be around. Pamela and I have crossed paths many times since then, but I don’t think we really had our first substantive conversation until about ten years ago, when we were performing together on another concert of all flute music. Pamela and Matt toured for many years together with the New York Ragtime Orchestra in Maine and Japan and she knew about Eight Strings & a Whistle. I think by the time we started really talking at that concert in 2008, there was an established rapport between us. Shortly thereafter, Pamela starting coming to our annual concerts at the Tenri Cultural Institute. She has been such an enthusiastic supporter of our work and when we talk about what it is we are all trying to achieve musically, she still reminds me of that first time I met her on that Metro-North train.
Pamela’s Third Eye was completed and sent to us in December, 2017. Since Eight Strings & a Whistle was formed, we have been very lucky that so many composers have written such wonderful works for us. But Pamela is a FLUTIST, and for me personally, her wanting to compose for us was a very welcome addition to our repertoire. Third Eye interweaves the viola and the cello with the colors of the flute in a way that I love so much, creating a painting of tremendous beauty and spirituality with sound. We premiered Third Eye in March of this year at Bronx Community College. We plan on more performances next season – we’ll keep you posted!
In the meantime, please enjoy my interview with the wonderful Pamela – “La Reine” Musicalement, Flutistiquement, Jazzistiquement et Amicalement – as Claude Bolling so beautifully put it!
Suzanne: What drew you to composing? Can you describe how you sought to develop as a composer while maintaining a career as a flutist?
Pamela: I loved making up colorful characters and playing music as a kid. I was drawn to composing basically the same way that I just had to write stories as a child; about comic book characters I invented (Sky King, Onion Lad, for example), and the same way I just had to play the flute. I never studied composition formally but I did write some brief piano pieces during childhood, a flute duet later, and a brass quintet in college.
I was a performance major at Mannes College of Music in New York, and was very focused on my flute playing during the early part of my career. Composing was not a priority at that time. I came back to it in about 2009, when a colleague of mine heard something I’d attempted and told me that I should compose. He was forming a new composer-performer group and invited me to write a work for it. His best advice was, “Don’t judge. Just write.” He was sharing with me what his teacher had told him.
I began developing further as a composer while maintaining a career as a flutist without much particular planning or thought, actually. I always understood from childhood that I would be a musician, so writing for colleagues and groups is a natural extension of playing for me. Also, I’ve always loved playing chamber music, and I equally love composing for small ensembles.
Suzanne: What is your process and how has it changed as you have matured?
Pamela: For me, the composing process is aided by having specific people or themes in mind. A particular instrument and player, or a nature theme such as a setting, a climate, or element, for example, give me a mood, a feeling, impressions, imagery, and/or a dynamic. These integrate and enable me to combine energy, rhythm, tempo, pitch and colors which involve synesthesia. This whole process gives me greater musical detail and direction. I feel as though I’m maturing through – or almost maturing! – because of my writing! In any case, using some of what I learned in music theory classes and from what I hear and have written earlier changes some of my writing, but I’m not certain the process itself has changed much, if at all.
Suzanne: You and I started talking about you writing a piece for Eight Strings & a Whistle a few years ago, and then we revisited the idea this past Fall. How did you come up with the material for Third Eye? Can you describe your process a little bit in terms of how Third Eye came into the world and what inspires the musical ideas you choose to explore in your work?
Pamela: Third Eye was something of a distilled version of what I feel from the three of you when you play together, as well as the way your energy connects when you communicate verbally. You share a very focused, pure blend with a spiritual link. So, in terms of a theme/material I wanted to write something spiritual – something felt but not seen physically: like a third eye. I was practicing one day and suddenly just started playing a rush of notes. I quickly recorded them and realized this was the introduction, which needed to begin with flute. The realization of the title took longer than creating some of the music.
Suzanne: When I hear you play and listen to your recordings, I am struck by the variety of influences that both color your playing and your composing. You are such a versatile artist. While this is an interview about your work as a composer, I’d be curious to know who some of your greatest influences have been both as a flutist and as a composer. I would guess that the two sides of you come together often. Would you say that there is overlap in terms of how the various people you have worked with as a flutist throughout your career have influenced you as a composer?
Coming back to the influences I hear in your work, I hear the ethereal and spiritual drawn from Middle Eastern and American Indian senses of tonality, but I also hear influences in other works, which seem to draw from other parts of the world. And then, there are of course the distinctly American Jazz works – and I can hear how you draw from all of these to various degrees to create a whole. How do you work with this, how does it come together for you?
Pamela: Thank you, Suzanne. I believe I have more than two sides, which come together for me in ways that change and are like different traits ofone bigger thing –– almost like contributing strands of inherited DNA. It’s all music: styles, rhythms, instruments and grooves. In fact, I’m almost embarrassed to say that I never thought about any of these styles as being different from one another! Again, this all goes back to my childhood and coming from a musical family. My brothers both played keyboard in fantastic rock bands which rehearsed at our house, and I also heard a lot of other music they listened to such as the WHO, BB King, Zombies, Wilson Pickett,The Doors, Blood Sweat & Tears, The Kinks, etc. My parents had Classical music playing on the radio in the morning and evening, and they took us to orchestra concerts. I also had a well-known violinist cousin whose recordings we listened to. All of these styles were just like different dialects of the same language to me.
Working with musicians such as Larry Coryell, Bob Mintzer and Don Sebesky at different times influenced my improvising more than my writing. My greatest musical influences in general are equally my favorite composers and performers which are rather random stylistically and genre-wise. Classically they include Prokofiev, Verdi, Faure, film composers Bernard Hermann and John Williams. Non-classical musicians/bands range from the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Motown groups, Moody Blues and Hubert Laws (with whom I performed while touring with Claude Bolling). I love Native American flute sounds and Middle Eastern music, but these ancient cultures themselves are what fascinate me; many Native American tribes were very spiritual and connected with nature and animals, and their artistic and colorful styles, personal beliefs and philosophies offer us much to learn from. Likewise, Ancient Egyptian architecture, ornaments, symbolic ritual objects and fashion are compelling to me and I have great respect for some of their rulers who advocated for peace. So, I’ve drawn much musical inspiration from them.
Suzanne: What is your view of music being composed in our lifetime?
Pamela: I like a lot of different styles and I want to listen to more contemporary music.
Suzanne: One of the questions (usually the last one) we ask many of our featured composers is if they have any advice for composers who are trying to get started. I remember a conversation you and I had a very long time ago about our careers, or rather it was more about the stuff in our careers that motivates and excites us. You made a comment about how important it is to grow – I think you even said something to the effect of, “as long as you are doing something to help you grow/get better, then whatever it is that you are doing is worth the time and effort.” It’s clear to me that this is the way you have lived your life in music. What more specific advice in that vein would you give to a composer who is just getting started with that part of their life?
Pamela: I can only say that we’re wired to like, to need, to do –– or not do –– very specific things. So, if you want to be a composer (a musician, actually) then do what you must to follow your path. Find a way (or create it!) to continue growing, move forward; learn more about the instruments or voices you want to write for; make connections with others who are playing and writing –– younger or older. For depth and balance, take in historical references like dance, visual art, architecture, museums and read about places and events. (My favorite genre is historical fiction.) Also try to travel and be exposed to other cultures, even if briefly.
I completely had to do what I’m doing and never felt that it was a choice. It was a path, which lead me. This path was and still is very difficult at times. There have been sacrifices along the way, but I absolutely needed to persevere. If you must do something you truly believe in, then you must be certain that it’s right for you. Keep stretching and learning and growing. You must live in that world and take chances.
Pamela Sklar’s compositions are performed in concerts, workshops, schools, on broadcasts and themed programs in the New York area and elsewhere, including the National Flute Association Convention in Chicago and the International Double Reed Society Conference in New York City, both in 2014. Her two original recordings A Native American-Jazz Tribute and Silver Pharaohreceived high praise from American Record Guide, Jazz Weekly and several Flute publications, among others. Her quartet Chains of Love, based on a poem by Cervantes, was premiered in Madrid in 2017 and received its American premiere in New York City in early 2018. A copy of her score of Spell 166 for five flutes and organ is included in the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.
Pamela has been awarded seed grants for performances and a recording from New York Women Composers for her duo 2Flutes with Laura Falzon. New York-area ensembles that have premiered and/or performed Pamela’s music include Threeds, Englewinds, Double Entendre, Eight Strings & a Whistle, Northern Westchester Flutes, Women in Music and the Ramapo Valley Chamber Ensemble.
Pamela’s performance highlights include international tours as flute soloist with Claude Bolling, concerts with Dave Brubeck, Alan Hovhaness, Pulitzer Prize winner Karel Husa, TV appearances with tenor Andrea Bocelli, performances in orchestras for the GRAMMY Awards, jingles, films and recordings for many other artists including Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga and Paul Simon.
Pamela received her Bachelor’s degree with honors in performance from the Mannes College of Music. She has studied with John Wummer, Samuel Baron and Karl Kraber.
Upcoming performances include an original premiere for a Flute Gala tribute by the Hoff-Barthelson Music School and a program of original music by one of her bands Intuition Quartet. Upcoming recordings include 2Flutes’ debut Tapestry, and two more recordings of mostly original music by her two bands.
For more information, please visit www.pamelasklar.com.
A few years ago, one of Ina’s teaching positions included a chamber music class at The City College of New York. It was structured such that the students who signed up for the class got placed in one, maybe two or even three ensembles. The class time itself consisted of a combination of rehearsals and coaching sessions. It attracted a variety of instrumentalists with different levels of expertise and experience. Given the wide enrollment and range of instrumentation, Ina had to be creative in creating ensembles and assigning repertoire –– often including interesting arrangements of standard (and not so standard) repertoire.
Spencer Snyder signed up for Ina’s class in Spring 2015. He was working towards his Master’s in composition at the time. Spencer had started off in undergrad (New School) studying jazz as a drum set major, found his way to composing and joined Ina’s class as a pianist. It so happened that six, yes six!, singers had decided to take the class that semester as well. Ina was stumped – how was she going to be able to place all of them?
Fortunately, Spencer had made it known that he was a composer. Never one to waste a potential opportunity, Ina asked Spencer what he might have. Lo and behold, he had written, An Open Letter to Time Warner Cable, an unaccompanied work for five singers! I think the title speaks for itself – a good time was had by all, I am sure!
Fast-forward to the planning of our 2017 benefit. As many of you know we have decided to start a composer competition. Established composers have been so generous in writing works for us in the past, and it is time to start encouraging future generations. At our benefit, we wanted to get our donors excited about this project, and thought a short work by an up-and-coming composer might help. Ina immediately thought of Spencer and Red and White, which he had sent to us earlier in the season.
We enjoyed working with Spencer so much that we’ll be playing more of his work at our concert at the Tenri Cultural Institute on October 27 as well as in Cuba in November! We were also intrigued by what he had to say about his experiences in school and learning to compose chamber music. Given that we will begin accepting submissions for the 8SW Composer Competition this coming September, interviewing Spencer for our next featured composer article seems to be more than perfect timing. I hope you enjoy Spencer’s sense of humor and practical outlook on his budding career!
Suzanne: How did you become interested in composing? Please describe your experience with making the transition from being a drum set major to composing.
Spencer Snyder: Film scoring was my bridge into composition. I don’t remember why I suddenly became interested in it but it became a big focus of mine at Berklee. Once I transferred to the New School I continued pursuing it. I think I knew that I wanted to write concert music but I didn’t know enough about it. I felt as though anything I wrote would be invalid because I knew so little about the literature. Film scoring was easier because so much of what you have to do is laid out already in the film or in the director’s notes; “this scene is sad, make it sound like that one Postal Service song, can you have it by Friday?”
Compared to the creation of composing, drums were less satisfying as a creative vessel. I started feeling like my role was obligatory and my playing in one tune could be swapped for my playing in any other tune in the same tempo. Drums felt like the flour in the cake; and if I felt that way, whether or not it was true, I shouldn’t have been playing drums.
Because I was at the New School for Jazz, I was able to take classes at Mannes College of Music, part of the New School. The Mannes classes were sort of my gateway into more classically oriented music. Classical music was barely talked about at the jazz school. When it was discussed it was framed more as a curiosity, or maybe a quirky influence of a specific jazz musician. But there were a couple of experiences that helped push me over to the other side of the bridge. A friend invited me to see the American String Quartet play Ravel, and another friend lent me a recording of Boulez conducting Mahler 2. After Mahler, drums were just done for me. I bought every Mahler biography, every score, started learning German, and stopped practicing drums.
SG: You have mentioned that writing for non-standard instrumentation, such as 8SW’s, is what most/or a lot of composers end up writing for in the earlier stages of their career. Can you comment on your own process with this? Tell us about your experience learning to compose for more standard instrumentation as well as non standard instrumentation.
SS: I think it’s interesting that the topic of writing for chamber instruments effectively hasn’t been as formalized as other topics. A curriculum could be devised on how to teach it in a class, but it would be hard because the principles would be broader. In symphonic orchestration you learn things like typical doublings and how to arrange notes in the right order for a particular choir. It’s easy to break down the effects and the colors and learn how to use the choirs and the appropriate doublings. While orchestral writing is drilled into students, it is something only a tiny minority of composers actually get to do. Composing for non-standard smaller ensembles, on the other hand, are going to be the bulk of opportunities after school, but the process doesn’t follow typical orchestral rules.
Orchestration for small ensembles is hard to teach because of the varied nature of chamber music. You would have to have a class on string quartets, a class on ensembles featuring piano, a class on strings plus a single wind, etc. The coloristic choices of chamber music are subtle and less uniform and relegated to case by case. Appropriate couplings change in the context of something written for piano, violin, cello and flute, for example. How to use each voice effectively and how to have the piano part fleshed out with multiple voices but still have the other instruments participating in a meaningful way, is difficult to teach in the context of symphonic orchestration. Every voice is distinct. Having a multitude of lines becomes incredibly important. Private lessons are mostly where you get tips on how to negotiate these territories.
Everything sounds great when it’s played by an orchestra, but getting a satisfying sound out of something small is something different. You are no longer able to hide behind the power of 40 strings. The music has to speak for itself a little more.
SG: Tell us about your studies with David Del Tredici and any other composers who have influenced you.
SS: The foundation of my musical understanding was jazz so of course I do draw influence from it. I could circle the places in my scores that come from Wayne Shorter or Brad Mehldau. A lot of my rhythmic tendencies are lifted straight from Elvin Jones.
I got incredible and invaluable instruction from Del Tredici. It is immediately apparent that he is a master. His knowledge of the literature is staggering and he uses compositional devices with absolute autonomy. Del Tredici taught me how to be objective. He gave me more concrete instruction as well, (repetition, invention, orchestration) but most importantly he helped me understand the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of a piece of my writing.
SG: What compelled you to take Ina’s class?
SS: Ina’s class was the first time I had ever played chamber music, so through her and her class I got a lot of insight into navigating the actual interaction with the other players and what’s expected of me as a pianist. I wasn’t good enough at piano to have played any chamber music in my undergrad, and nobody was playing it anyway. I mainly joined the class because I wanted to experience that side of the music.
SG: Was it difficult to get readings or performances of your music as a student? How have you gone about that since being in school?
SS: Readings and performances in jazz school aren’t really a thing. It’s common to bring in a lead sheet to the ensemble you’re playing in, but that’s about it. Then at City College readings and performances weren’t really a thing because the department basically had no resources. Although at the end of each semester Del Tredici would get a chamber group together for a reading.
Performances post-school haven’t been that tough actually. Showing up to concerts, being cool with everyone, and organizing concerts yourself will at least keep you writing as much as time will allow.
Spencer Snyder (b. 1988) is an American concert composer from New York City. Spencer began his professional studies at the Collective School of Music in Manhattan. Then, after a brief stint at Berklee College of Music in Boston he went on to the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music where he completed a BFA in jazz performance. Most recently he earned his MA in composition from The City College of New York. He has studied with such distinguished composers as Conrad Cummings, Charles Fussell, Sonny Kompanek, and David Del Tredici.
Spencer’s concert works have been performed by The Manhattan Symphonie, Ensemble Mise-En, Eight Strings & a Whistle, The Mother Falcon String Quartet and many others. Upcoming premieres include a chamber opera with The Fresh Squeezed Opera Company and a piece for flute and piano by Novelette13. For more information please visit Spencer”s website here.
Merrill Clark composed Sinfonia Ternion Gestalt for us in late 2009/early 2010. It is a five movement through-composed work, centered around a lamenting non-vocal setting of William Butler Yeats’ The Second Coming. Yeats used Christian imagery in his 1919 poem, evoking post World War I, and Merrill uses his musical take on the poem as a means to reflect on our contemporary times. Sinfonia Ternion Gestalt is demanding, harmonically challenging and rhythmically intricate, and it intrigued and intimidated us at the same time. Never ones to be stopped by a challenge, we premiered the piece at the Tenri Cultural Institute in November, 2010. We chose to bring it back into rotation this season, including it in a program of works of varied styles, all of which make use of elements of the past to reflect the present. Please visit our Upcoming Concerts page for details.
One of the most exciting aspects of revisiting any wonderful piece of music, old or new, is hearing or discovering things you haven’t heard before and enriching your relationship with that piece. Asking Merrill to be our next featured composer has given me an excuse to explore with him what we have discovered during this recent rehearsal process and then share it with you. Learning about how the old European masters, traditional Indian music and jazz have found their way into Merrill’s musical language has been fascinating. Merrill is also our first featured composer to articulate thoughts about chamber music as an illustration of ways in which society can cooperate as a whole. I hope that reading this interview will inspire you to learn more about Merrill’s work, and come out to hear his Sinfonia Ternion Gestalt on November 18 at the Tenri Cultural Institute. For ticket information, please visit here.
Suzanne: What drew you to composing?
Merrill Clark: I’ve always enjoyed making things. Kinetic vibration sculpture narratives happen to be something I’m good at.
SG: How would you describe your harmonic language?
MC: My first great musical love was J. S. Bach. I heard my first real stereo at a party in high school. ‘Switched on Bach’ by Walter, now Wendy, Carlos. I was dumbfounded. I went to the local music store and bought everything I could find with that magic name on it. I got the Sonatas and Partitas for unaccompanied violin and tried to play them on guitar. I got the Inventions and Sinfonia and the 48-the Preludes and Fugues and tried to play the bass lines on bass guitar and the melody on guitar. I didn’t have over dubbing capabilities – or any recording devices at all – so I harassed every musician I knew to play Bach as duets or trios with me. I carried them with me everywhere even going so far as to put them inside my typing manual during class. (That was one angry typing instructor.)
I didn’t have piano skills so I learned to stack up and hear, by mentally arpeggiating, the harmonies in my mind. A skill that has served me well as conductor and composer. I then went to the library and started bringing home counterpoint text books. Goetschius, Kennan, Piston, Gradus ad Parnassum and eventually Taneyev, which introduced me to the concept of multiple subject fugues and stretto manipulation. The result was a disdain for homophonic music. (I have since recovered.) Even now when I want a striking harmony I will try to arrive at it as a confluence or convergence of independent melodic lines.
My harmonic language now is most often incidental to the structures I make. I am keenly aware of dissonance, which I use in more of a 16th century sense (although I don’t have much use for those rules of strict counterpoint which seem to me to be designed to prevent parishioners from dancing in their pews) and I think in intervallic tension flow, as I do in rhythmic tension flow, at the same time. So I have abandoned thorough bass, I guess. I can and do write well in consonances, if I choose to, without really establishing a mode or key.
SG: Please describe your musical influences and how they carry over into your work.
MC: I think it would be accurate to say that I have never heard music that I didn’t learn from and that didn’t change my musical boundaries and vocabulary in some way. When I listen I try to find universal principles – the things that are the same in music that is made in every culture. It is sometimes difficult to hear past the European/American paradigm that I grew up with, but I can find things to admire in almost everything I hear.
The most important principles I have formulated for my own work are:
1. Continuity of the center of mass in a musical structure. That is to say, making the ensemble a collective and the weight of its notes and rhythmic tensions move together in some kind of logical manner. A sub heading of this is what I have labeled “brake and wake”: When a mass changes direction or stops the Newtonian momentum (my term is “muta-inertial curve”) some part of the mass remains stationary (the “brake”) while the rest of the mass continues in the same direction until the tonal gravity acts on it and pulls it back toward the stationary mass. This model can apply to a single melodic voice as well. This principle, although probably intuitive for most musicians, is fundamental to jazz. So-called “tail gate” trombone is an early example. When jazz players talk about “feeling” the music and “swinging” I am convinced this is a big part of what they mean. This principal is also found in the works of most of the classical and romantic era masters and those of my preferred 20th century composers: in the string quartets of Schönberg, Webern and Berg, in Bartok’s work, in Berg’s chamber concerto, as examples.
2. The drum is an organizing principle equal to the human voice. I have been fascinated by drumming for four decades now. It is an intellectual challenge of a high order to create musical environments and narratives with just a small handful of sounds. I always keep a music manuscript notebook handy to jot down ideas that come up at odd moments. A good percentage of those ideas are modeled on drum rudiments. My work, Trombonist from Hell, for example, started out as a rudimental drum figure that was expanded into a double fugue subject in complementary rhythms so a single player could play both simultaneously.I still teach that pattern to my drum students. (That pattern is LRRRLRLRRLRLLRLR – RLLLRLRLLRLRRLRL if you want to try it at home.)
3. The actions of voices in an ensemble should, most of the time, affect each other. For me two of the most perfect examples of this are a) in Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra in the third movement Elegia, when the high woodwind and low string descending scales repeatedly hit the heavy chords and the trumpets react to the impact, and b) in the Second Piano Concerto, at the end of the second movement, where the strings return to the choral style of the opening: the piano plays a trill and Bartok marked the strings tremolo. That kind of color and motion interaction is something I value greatly.
4. Music should have a viable social/psychological interface with its intended audience. The primal connection between the listener and music, before words and before melody, is the rhythmic content. And that means body rhythms; rhythms which range from the fastest movements possible to human fingers to the slowest music to which we can still pay attention, with the common denominator being a predictable pulse. As a young composer, I found that I wanted to connect as directly with listeners as I thought jazz related musics, such as African and Hindu derived musics, did. As I became semi-proficient at twelve-tone composition, about 25 years ago, unlike many composers of the Schönbergian stream, I made a decision not to abandon pulse or thematic development.
5. Musicians spend a lifetime in the practice room learning to make their instruments sound good. A composer should respect that. I try to give them opportunity to display their laboriously acquired skills, and, perhaps a result of my jazz background, where written melodies were regarded as no more than suggestions, I also try to leave some room for interpretation. That makes me a traditionalist in some sense.
I may ask a player to make a harsh sound but it will always be for some kind of musical effect.
SG: In addition to being a composer, you are a pianist, recorder player, guitarist, bass player, have studied the tabla and percussion. Can you elaborate on how these particular experiences have influenced your work as a composer?
MC: Glad to. That is all by design. My recorder playing keeps me in touch to some degree with wind playing and phrasing. My bowed bass playing connects me to the rest of the string section. My piano playing in jazz keeps me in touch with what Stravinsky called “the wisdom of fingers.“ My piano playing as I explore the classical and romantic piano literature gives me little glimpses into the musical thinking of some of the greatest musical minds that have ever lived. My guitar playing, my first instrument and first instrumental love, exercises my ability to reduce ideas to their simplest form- essential skill for any composer. My drumming studies (toying with Persian drumming right now-it’s amazing stuff) keep me connected to the body rhythms I mentioned above and are the closest I come to meditation and transcendence. The fact that I am able to teach everything I’m interested in privately (what institution would put up with that?) keeps me almost in shape on all those instruments and connected with the physical aspects of playing. The teaching, 5 year olds to adults, keeps me connected to what listeners can be expected to assimilate and digest.
SG: How might playing the tabla influence how you write for the flute or strings?
MC: Indian music is a big influence on almost everything I write. When I want a line to stand out, be a ‘solo’ for the player, I use two main devices (aside from the traditional European tricks – contrasting dynamics and colors, separate registers, contrasting phrasing etc): One is to use polyrhythms so that all the attacks are done by that instrument alone rather than in unison with another instrument. The other is to use the Indian principle of Tehai: a series of temporary rhythmic “tonics” are created which are out of sync with the underlying pulse of the Tal, (what we call the meter or cycle) and the final rhythmic tonic coincides with the “sum”, or first beat of the Tal in a very satisfying conclusion to the phrase group or the entire performance. This is a basic and ubiquitous structural component in Indian music. Both devices give similar effect. With Tehai, however, it is possible to be much more irregular and asymmetrical.
SG: Are there things apart from music that have influenced your work?
MC: Indeed. My first compositional success was a piece for Jazz band that included what I called a “geodesic canon”. The meter was 9/8 divided 3/8 + 3/4. The canon treated the large bar and small bar the same so it seemed to balloon – shrinking and expanding. (What can I say? I was 19. I understand Fuller better now.)
I am influenced by film, computer graphic art (I love G Force. Hat[s] off to Andy Meira. Genius), architecture, Joseph Campbell, Zen, Gurdjieff and Ouspenski, Picasso, Dali, Van Gough, Manet, Pollack, Escher, Mandelbrot, Poe, a large raft of science fiction writers, dance, biology, philosophy, informal logic, astronomy, sculpture, history, language, physics….pretty much everything I’m interested in finds its way into my music at some juncture.
SG: To us, Sinfonia Ternion Gestalt flows outward quite organically from the central Aria movement. How did you arrive at setting Yeats’ The Second Coming for this central movement? What made you decide on this particular poem?
MC: That is an excellent observation. Redemption seems to be a theme that I keep returning to lately. In writing the Sinfonia the idea actually hit me midway through the first two sections when I was thinking ahead to how I wanted to feature your playing. I was also thinking about chamber music as a conduit for the preservation of civilization and as a civilizing factor in society. In a flash I decided to use the phrasing and emphasis in the Yeats poem and to name the movement Aria. So I guess in a way it did grow organically or perhaps just subconsciously.
SG: What is your view of the music being composed in our lifetime?”
MC: I’ve already spoken to that in a previous question somewhat. I would add that it’s a wonderful time to be a composer as long as you don’t expect to make a lot of money at it. We have fingertip, instant access to music from all over the planet. Traditions that are centuries old and the newest fantastic explorations of the best composers on the globe are ours to draw on. I listen for a couple of hours before breakfast most mornings. It’s always a feast for my ears. A violist friend of mine some years ago placated me when I was apologizing profusely for not knowing some staple of the string quartet literature by saying: “There will always be new music to hear. I find that comforting.” My sentiments precisely now. It used to be a truism that only the best examples of any artistic style would survive and thrive and the rest would disappear. Now in the age of the Internet, everything remains. Who am I to say one artist or one style or any one tradition is superior? I like what I like not because I want to impress anyone but because it pleases me to listen to it.
SG: Do you have any advice for young composers trying to get a start?
MC: Do it if you love it. If you want to make money, learn to create virtual reality environments or become a stockbroker. Write something every day no matter how short or trivial it might seem to you. The only way to be good at this is to do it for a lifetime. Don’t limit yourself to a single style but do find your own voice. That is what has value.
Merrill Clark has composed many works in a wide variety of genres, including the musical theater piece Sanctuary commissioned by Joseph Papp, a six-hour operatic mini-series Dorianbased on Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray, and two Bass Concertos. Recent works include The Sorceress Sonata for Unaccompanied Violin, premiered by violinist Hlif Sigurjonsdottir in New York City and in Iceland in 2016. Ms. Sigurjonsdottir’s recording, Dialogus, features the sonata and was nominated for CD of the year in Fanfare Magazine. Prime Divisions for piano trio was premiered by the di.vi.sion piano trio in New York in 2014; the trio’s recording, di.vi.sionpremieres The Music of Merrill Clark, featuring Prime Divisions and Eighth Avenue Tango, was released in 2015 on Albany Records.
Merrill has collaborated with Brazilian violinist/violist, Eliano Braz in a concert of original music, which premiered Retrato do Eliano, written specifically for Mr. Braz, at the Fazioli Piano Salon in New York City. His long-standing collaboration with German trombonist Dirk Amrein resulted in a series of works for trombone: Trombonist from Hell for solo trombone (2008) which has enjoyed over 67,000 views on YouTube; The Wild Hunt for Alphorn, Piano, and Electronics, premiered in 2009 in New York City; and Bone Shredder for solo trombone, premiered in Germany in 2013.
Merrill received his early training at the University of Utah, where he studied with William Fowler, Joyce Newman and Ramiro Cortes, and graduated magna cum laude in 1978. He later studied with film composer, Pat Williams, contra bass virtuoso, Lisle Atkinson, tabla master, Samir Chatterjee, and Latin percussionist/arranger, Louis Bauzo. At the age of nineteen he was Winner in Composition of the American College Jazz Festival which resulted in his conducting a concert of his works at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, and the publication of a work by DownBeat Magazine. In 1985 he received a grant from Meet the Composer to present a concert of original compositions at Manhattan’s 13th Street Theatre, featuring jazz violinists, Brenda Vincent, and John Blake, Jr. Merrill has resided in New York for the last 34 years and maintains a private teaching studio. His book, Mastering Blues Keyboard, (1997) is published by Alfred Publishing Company.
Photo: Peter Gannushkin
Peter Jona Korn’s Aloysia Serenade, Op. 19 is one of the works included on Albert’s Window, our recent release on Ravello Records. We began performing the Serenade long after Korn had died, and our initial research revealed very little other than a website dedicated to his work. The website put Ina in touch with Korn’s wife, Barbara, who was able to pass on some information about the piece: the Korns had been close friends with Hollywood composer, Ernest Gold and his wife, Marni Nixon. The men started calling each other Aloysius, and their wives, Aloysia. The term was then bestowed upon various people who became their close friends, including honorary Aloysia, Doriot Anthony Dwyer, the principal flutist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and to whom the Serenade is dedicated. Dwyer was looking for a work to compliment Beethoven’s Serenade in D Major, Op. 25 for flute, violin and viola and Albert Roussel’s Trio Op. 40 (also on Albert’s Window) for flute, viola and cello. Dwyer’s request inspired Korn to compose a lengthy four movement work. Completed in 1953, the Aloysia Serenade was premiered in Boston in 1957 by Dwyer, Joseph De Pasquale and Samuel Mayes, also principal players with the Symphony.
As an ensemble, our habit with bringing new works into our repertoire is to perform them repeatedly throughout the course of one season, then temporarily put them to rest with the intention of bringing them back into our programming at a later date. We have revisited the Aloysia Serenade many times and decided to include it on Albert’s Window since it is one of the few works originally for flute, viola and cello that has not been composed for us. While we have printed parts for this work, we have never been able to find a score – something one would need for recording purposes. It was in the search for a copy of this score in 2013 that we learned that Barbara Korn had passed away, and were put in touch with Heidi Crumpacker and Tony Korn, Barbara and Peter Korn’s children.
Preparing the liner notes for Albert’s Window prompted further research. I was able to get a hold of a copy of a book published about Korn in the Komponisten in Bayern series (published by Hans Schneider in 1989.) I also discovered an entry for Korn on IMBd , listing him as an uncredited orchestrator for It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World. I already knew that Korn had spent many years living in L.A., yet this was the first and only film credit I could find. There was no mention of this in any other biographical information I had come across. I found it difficult to believe that he could be friends with Ernest Gold and living L.A. for so many years and not be more involved with the film industry.
As I began to read more, I learned more details about Korn’s philosophical beliefs and why, in some respects, his life took the course that it did. Barbara Korn’s early correspondence with Ina indicated that her husband had been criticized for not joining the avant garde “circus” and that he “prophesied that the era of experimental music would one day come to a dead end and composers would find their way(s) back to the realm of tonality and clarity….. These views, openly held, made his career in Germany quite difficult…”
Reading further about his life, I learned about how early Korn left Germany for Palestine, his student- teacher relationship with Stefan Wolpe, and his life in the U.S.; although a Jew, he did not experience the horrors that many others did and for this reason his move back to Germany was not as much of a negative emotional issue for him as it might have been for others. I came to understand that he perhaps had no reason to embrace the turn contemporary music took in reaction to fascist restrictions placed on composers, and why openly voicing his opinion about that turn towards atonality potentially posed some serious professional risks.
The liner notes for Albert’s Window, however, did not seem the appropriate place to explore these details. While the interviews we usually post on our Featured Composer page are with living composers, our relationship with the Aloyisa Serenade has relevant ties to the present and I thought it would be worthwhile to give these details an outlet here. Our interviews are another means through which we can take a more direct approach to exploring a composer’s work and I am grateful to Heidi Crumpacker and Tony Korn for taking the time to answer my questions. They have experienced Peter Jona Korn differently than the rest of us and can offer a different perspective. Korn produced a tremendous body of work that includes orchestral, choral chamber works as well as works for the stage. He also wrote extensively on the state of new music during his lifetime. I hope Heidi and Tony’s responses will pique your interest and prompt you to seek out more opportunities to hear or study or perform his music.
Suzanne: Despite his studies with Stefan Wolpe and Arnold Schoenberg, your father rejected atonality and the twelve-tone technique, and ultimately leaned toward a classical-romantic language. He was much criticized for his views on the purpose of music and not joining the avant-garde. He believed that music flowed best in the broad mainstream of tradition and should be written for the concert-going public to enjoy as opposed to academics.
Tony Korn: Just because you study with the pioneers (or at least proponents) of atonality etc. doesn’t mean you have to adhere to their philosophies. Or even like their music. My father railed against “theoretical” music and its inability to express or even mean anything.
Heidi Crumpacker: I know this became a big controversy. As a musician I think your ears and your brain function as they do – you can study other things, but you are just wired one way. And he heard life in the conventional tone realm. He wouldn’t have been interested in writing (even if he could have) music that wasn’t going to be performed. He was a fairly logical thinker and that would have made no sense. He did feel that he was never properly recognized for his body of work – which is actually quite impressive. But he alienated so many people – many of them quite influential – along the way that he was shut out of many performance venues in Germany in later years.
SG: Your father founded and led the New Orchestra of Los Angeles from 1947-56. As far as I know, the orchestra performed many contemporary works, including his own. While it existed before you both were born, I am curious if your father ever spoke with you about this time and how it might have been a vehicle through which he could nurture and get the he music he supported out to the public.
HC: There were many studio musicians in L.A. in those years who longed to play “real” music and were willing to rehearse for free. I don’t know if the orchestra couldn’t be maintained but we left for Europe the first time in 1956, which is when it was disbanded.
SG: Your father’s book Musikalische Umweltverschmutzung (Musical Pollution) was published in 1975 (Breitkopf & Härtel.) It was controversial and caused quite a stir in the music world. In this book, your father voices his opinion against the trends of post war composition – the music of Schoenberg, the 12-tone system, the avant-garde. The book’s publication had some negative repercussions for him professionally. Do you remember this time? Did he ever speak with you about it?
TK: Of course the book was controversial. It was meant to ruffle some feathers. Some folks love it, others (his targets) hated it, of course, but that was the whole idea.
HC:Musikalische Umweltverschmutzung is a current project of mine. I would like to get it translated. I think it would make an excellent university resource for a 20th Century Music History class. I don’t know why he felt compelled to stir this particular pot, but he enjoyed the fallout. His post as Direktor was secure, so he could take chances to voice a controversial opinion.
SG: It was not only these trends themselves that your father spoke out against, but also the condemning attitude towards those who defended tonality. I recently came across some satirical articles your father wrote for Hi-Fidelity magazine in the 1960s. He expresses his point of view with an acerbic sense of humor. It not only confirms much of what we hear when we play the Aloysia Serenade, but it also makes me think he probably was a man who could really make people laugh in general. Am I right?
TK: Yep, my dad’s sarcasm could be ruthless, and as much as he could infuriate his “victims”, he would equally make his allies howl with laughter.
SG: Do you know anything about your father’s work in the film industry? When I first began reading about him, several years ago, I found it odd that he had been living in L.A. as a composer and yet there was no information indicating a connection with the industry. Now one can easily find reference to him as an un-credited orchestrator for It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World. Are there any other such projects that you are aware of?
TK: My father struggled with the thought of commercialization. He would have no doubt loved the income, but and was very much against “selling out”.
HC: Work in the film industry was beneath him. He felt “serious composers” should not be pursuing this avenue. Too bad – his best friend Ernest Gold wrote the music for Mad World and Exodus and became very wealthy while we still lived in a 2-bedroom rental in West L.A. Hence the “un-credited orchestrator” – Ernest giving him a helping hand??
SG: What memories do you have of professionally significant moments in your father’s life?
TK: I do remember my father’s appointment as director of the Richard Strauss Conservatory in Munich in 1967 (I believe), and the performance of the Psalm vom Mut (Psalm of Courage) by the Bavarian State Orchestra under Wolfgang Sawallisch, which was a significant success.
HC:Probably one of the most definitive events was the premiere of his opera Heidi in Frankfurt.
SG: Can you tell me a bit more about your own lives with your father. You were very young when he made the decision to move back to Germany. What was that like for you? Did you live in both the U.S. and Germany? Ultimately you both have made your lives here in the US. Can you elaborate a bit on this and how you came to this decision?
TK: Our family life was pretty interesting, to say the least, being surrounded by so many complex and active people whose pivotal experience had been WWII and everything leading up to and following it. Moving back to Germany didn’t matter to me, since (as you rightly point out) I was very young. I was born in 1960 while my parents still lived in Germany. We moved back to the U.S. while I was still and infant, then moved back to Europe when I was four. Both my sister and I have American spouses, and the rest of our families live in the U.S., so those were the main reasons we settled back here. It’s really that simple.
HC:We moved to Europe from L.A .in 1956 – first to London, then Austria, then Munich. Tony was born there – but in those years a naturalized American had to be physically on U.S. soil every 5 years, so we came back to LA in 1961 – Tony was one year old. It took several years to get enough money together to once again move back to Europe – Austria to Switzerland to Munich in this loop. I later went to college in Paris, then to San Diego State University. Tony went to Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. Both of us came back to Germany later on – we overlapped some years – but then I had to return to the U.S. with my husband, whose mother was ill and needed him closer. My mother’s family (our cousins) lived in Oregon, so we moved there, and Tony and his wife later settled in that area as well. My husband and I kept moving over the years – New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona – Costa Rica 2006-2013 – and now in Florida. Tony and Bonnie are well-established in Washington State.
SG: What do you believe your father’s legacy is? How would like to see that fostered and supported?
TK: Well, my father was a remarkable man who had lived during a remarkable time in history. All eulogizing aside, I would cut to the chase and say that he should be remembered as a romantic composer with a keen sense of social justice. I would quite simply like his music to be played.
HC:The music is solid. Some of it is university-level performance possible. I am inching toward “Friends of PJK” or something like that to introduce and promote Musikalische Umweltverschmutzung in the classroom and any of the works into the music program. Any introductions to anyone in any music department anywhere would be helpful!!
Born in Berlin, Peter Jona Korn (1922-1998) was granted a visa in 1936 to study at the New Conservatory in Jerusalem. He was 14 years old and the youngest among a group of twenty German-Jewish students who had auditioned. He studied with Stefan Wolpe there for two years and emigrated to the United States in 1940. Korn attended both the University of California at Los Angeles as well as the University of Southern California. His most influential teacher was Ernst Toch. He also studied with Hanns Eisler, film music composition with Miklos Rózsa, and, very briefly, with Arnold Schoenberg. While in Los Angeles, Korn remained active as a composer, conductor and teacher. Korn moved back to Germany in 1967 permanently, when he became Director of the Richard Strauss Conservatory in Munich. For more information please visit here.
Many years ago, in fact far longer ago than I care to remember, I had a teaching position at Turtle Bay Music School, a community music school in midtown Manhattan. Although I left Turtle Bay a long time ago, I am still in touch with several students I taught there and one faculty member. That one faculty member is Octavio Vazquez. Octavio accompanied many of my students at Turtle Bay on the piano, helping them prepare for auditions, competitions and recitals. He was new to New York, via Maryland and originally from Spain. This was at the same time that Eight Strings & a Whistle was getting started. Of course, we were in search of repertoire, and I asked Octavio to compose a piece for us. The result was what ended up being the first movement of his Trio for Flute, Viola and Cello. The second and third movement were completed in 2003, a few years later. It is a technically demanding work, angular and harsh at times, while conveying a deep sense of loss or even despondency at others. Octavio tells me that those years were a particularly emotionally charged time for him, sadly marked by a series of personal losses.
Octavio’s Trio has been challenging and enormously satisfying. You’ll be able to hear us perform the work in its entirety at our annual concert at the Tenri Cultural Institute on November 20, 2015. For more information please visit our Upcoming Concerts page.
Although there have been stretches of being out of touch, Octavio and I have remained close friends since those days at Turtle Bay Music School. I am very happy that he agreed to be our next featured composer and even happier that we can share a little bit about him with all of you. Enjoy!
SG: Why did you decide to come to the United States? Did you make a conscious decision to stay once you were done with your studies, or did it just sort of happen?
OV: When I left my native Galicia to study in Madrid, in 1989, there wasn’t a single orchestra in the country (now there are two excellent professional orchestras and a growing number of very competitive community orchestras). Later on, when I finished my studies in Madrid, I wasn’t fully satisfied with my education thus far, nor with my professional opportunities in Spain at the time. I happened upon the Schirmer’s Guide to Music Schools Throughout the World, that -curiously- featured the USA prominently. I was admitted to the Peabody Conservatory, and soon after I received the Barrie de la Maza Foundation Scholarship, which allowed me to come and study in the USA.
After graduation, I received a full fellowship from the University of Maryland, where I completed my doctorate. I was looking forward to moving to a big cosmopolitan center and finding my way in my professional field. I thought of NYC and London. I visited both and NYC somehow seemed to me more of a cosmopolitan city in the sense of ‘universal’, more ‘country-less’ if you will, packed with new-comers like myself open to new experiences. A place full of unimaginable possibilities. It also helped that many of my fellow Peabody graduates felt similarly and moved to the city at about the same time. So I rented a U-haul, packed my few worldly possessions, and drove to Manhattan with nothing but a three-month sublet. That was an adventure.
SG: How does being Galician have an impact on you as a composer?
OV: As a country, Galicia is an ancient, mysterious, multi-cultural, beaten up, slowly-recovering place to be from. I’d say there is a general underlying feeling of both spirituality and skepticism (the skepticism mostly geared towards worldly things). My family being originally from the Highlands, I spent much of my childhood in a pre-industrial (or quasi-medieval) environment, and have seen since very rapid, if often very debatable, change. I have witnessed the self-inflicted, senseless destruction and loss of much of our material and cultural inheritance.
As far as composing, other than some specifically Galician pieces, such as the Galician Folk Dances, I have not made a point of writing ‘Galician music’, whatever that may mean, but just music. And yet everything has an influence. Everything we come into contact with may very well affect what we do (or don’t do) to varying degrees and oftentimes in unpredictable ways. Traumatic events that deeply affected my grandparents’ and parents’ generations, and were never discussed at home and even less in public, have made it somehow into my composing, and very forcefully too. Other pieces I’ve written are intimately linked to much earlier events, even centuries or millennia ago, and yet I feel them as if they were happening now. The question might perhaps be better left to someone else, someone with the perspective that more distance affords.
SG: Which composers have had the greatest influence on you?
OV: The list is far from unusual, but that’s just the way it is: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and many more who are well known to everyone. I will never forget the shock when as a kid I first heard part of Mozart’s Requiem, I instantly became tremendously nervous and was completely overtaken by the music. More recently, I’d single out Shostakovich and Scelsi. All of them to me are closer to each other than they are to their contemporaries. They share a closeness beyond style and circumstance, the fellowship of those who have amply transcended themselves and brought back the wonder and the magic of the great spirit, of the divine, so to speak.
SG: How would you describe your compositional process and how has it evolved over the last 10-15 years?
OV: The process itself never changed. What has evolved over time is my inner ear, my capacity for inner listening, my ability to better write down what flows through. That evolution is partly technical, partly psychological, partly spiritual. Composing is a bit of a paradox: by not doing, by getting out of the way, by fully focusing on mindless listening one can reach out (or in, or beyond) and become a vessel for that wonder that is music. But then one must remember it long enough at least to write it down, and the process of writing anything down involves a bit of analysis: what time signature was that?, what chord?, what counterpoint? Just a tiny bit of analysis, enough to take dictation. Ah!, but the simplest dictation can get in the way.The analytical mind has a knack for disturbing the not-doing state. So there you go, it’s a balance. For me it can sometimes be a bit like remembering a dream.
An image that I often use is that of finding a bed sheet half-floating in the water while out at sea. I grab it by a little corner and nail it to a rock that sticks out of the water, so that I can come back to it at any later time (this means I write down as much as I can at the moment). It’s like these rocks are sticking out of a sea, and the idea that is exposed to the air is only a small part of a whole piece of music that is already fully composed, mostly hidden under the surface of the water. I can fathom it there, the whole thing, attached to the bit that is nailed to the rock. Then comes the part when I pull the whole thing out of the water, wet and heavy as it is, and that’s a lot of work (and that’s when most of the writing happens). So when I compose something it isn’t like I am starting from nothing. It is more like hauling the already-composed piece out from under the surface of the water, wringing it, spreading it out on the beach so that it dries, and then ironing and folding as need be (that’d be the publishing part).
SG: You are quoted in Wikipedia as being primarily interested in the “…emotional impact [of your music] and direct communication with the listener”. In your notes about the Trio for Flute, Viola and Cello, you say that you were going through a very rough period emotionally. The writing is beautiful and compelling, and clearly conveys a complete loss of hope. You wrote the Trio over 10 years ago and you do seem far more optimistic these days! What or where do you draw from for the emotional content of what you aim to convey now?
OV: Hmm.. like I mentioned before, music finds me, not the other way around. Or maybe we bump into each other. After a piece ‘comes to me’, and often while I’m well into writing it, I can usually tell what it is about. Some have been related to historical events, some have been ‘portraits’ of people that I have encountered and become very close with, some have to do with archetypal life stories and the quest for spiritual realization, and some might be a tad more autobiographic, like the Trio, although somehow I don’t think those are the majority at all.
So who ‘composes’ the music? I sit there, you know, and listen. And if and when Music speaks –– in the form of a piece, which is alive just as we are –– then I write it down, as well as I can.
SG: Your music gets performed quite frequently and you have received countless positive reviews and accolades for your work from all over the world. Congratulations! Getting ones music heard is, I think, one of the more daunting necessities of any composer’s career. Can you describe your experience with this?
OV: I have been extremely fortunate to collaborate with wonderful performers from early on in my career. As a pianist myself I was part of many early performances, and I am also very aware of what makes a piece ‘grateful’ from the point of view of the performer, its ‘quality-price relationship’, so to speak.
Beyond that, music is to be heard, and to have, potentially, hopefully, a deep emotional and spiritual effect on listeners. They are as essential as the performers and the composer; it is the combination of all, their combined focused attentions, that make possible for this spiritual force we call music to flow through and manifest in the world.
SG: It is important for any artist to remain active in some way or another. We are always trying to stretch and grow whether we are performing or not. You do always seem to be working on a commission, but how else do you remain active as a composer? What reenergizes you, what inspires you?
OV: I often travel to premieres and other significant performances of my music, and work closely with conductors, soloists, and ensembles during the rehearsal process. Working with my composition students is another way. It’s a small wonder to see their inner connections develop and manifest. I also perform myself, although not as regularly as I used to. As a church music director, I conducted, performed, and improvised extensively on a weekly basis –– that intense performing activity is something I miss.
SG: In a recent conversation, you made reference to how you worked all the time when you first came to New York trying to get yourself established. It is very difficult to get to the point where one can feel a little secure and maybe even relax a little. What would your advice be to younger composers who are just getting started. And how might that tie in with your view of new music today?
OV: What I always ask young composers is, why are you doing this? You see, being a composer is something utterly irrational. It’s a horrible career choice, rather unjustifiable from a materialistic perspective. But so is falling in love. One doesn’t (usually) fall in love with the reasonable choice, but when it happens it happens. It’s clear and powerful and one has no saying in it. So my advise to them is keep that connection alive. Remember it, nurture it. Don’t forget where and why it all started. Listen to that voice and heed it, wherever it may take you –– even if it’s away from music altogether. You never know. The process is mysterious, like the water of a river flows to the ocean in the easiest, fastest possible way (convoluted as it may seem), so does the inner voice guide those who listen. Those who listen will hear.
So is too my view of music, today and ever: What’s original is not what is new –– for what is new anyway?, and what value is there in newness for the sake of it? What is original is what comes from the origin, the inner source, what is genuine. What is true to what one hears, and not made up or constructed following this or that external fashion.
The music of Octavio Vazquez has been performed throughout the US, Europe, and Asia, in venues such as Carnegie Hall, the National Auditorium of Spain and Cologne’s Philharmonie. Octavio has also written for film and collaborated with world-music artists as an arranger, orchestrator and producer, most notably with Grammy Award winner Cristina Pato. His orchestration of Negro Caravel for Ms. Pato’s CD Muller was nominated for the 2011 Spanish Music Academy Awards. He has received grants and commissions from notable organizations and artists such as Hilary Hahn, the Verdehr Trio, the New York State Council on the Arts, New Music USA, Galicia Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Galicia Symphony Orchestra, Meet the Composer, Fulbright Commission, and the Chi-Mei Foundation. His works have been recorded for many labels such as NAXOS, Marquis Classics and Bohemia Music, and by radio stations such as the Spanish National Radio, New York’s WQXR, and the Chinese International Radio. His music is published by the Conwell Publishing Group of New York. A graduate of the Adolfo Salazar Conservatory, the Royal Conservatory of Music of Madrid, the Peabody Conservatory, and the University of Maryland, Octavio has given lectures and masterclasses at many institutions such as the Manhattan School of Music, Mannes College, Johns Hopkins University, University of Maryland, Salisbury University, and Texas Christian University (USA), Carlos III and Complutense Universities (Spain), the XXXVII Congress of the International Viola Society (South Africa), and the Next Renaissance Conference (Netherlands). He teaches composition at the Nazareth College of Rochester, NY, and at the University of Santiago de Compostela. For more information please visit: www.octaviov.com.